Dems’ lofty ideas will meet tough opposition


Seeking a ratings extravaganza, the same cable news networks that televised Donald Trump’s airport arrivals during the 2016 campaign as if he were the pope or the Rolling Stones are currently presenting another kind of “reality TV”: the 2020 Democratic presidential debates.

That is, if your idea of “reality” is watching 20 politicians – at least 15 of whom have no more chance of winning than my cat Albert – prodded by CNN personalities to bicker and insult each other to entertain millions of goobers out in TV land with nothing better to do. Sheer infotainment!

Me, I recorded the proceedings and watched after the Red Sox game. It’s my job. Frankly, I find the mute button and 30-second advance helpful. CNN’s rules make real debate impossible. Say you’re a candidate and some TV faith healer or Russian-backed stalking horse trashes your character and reputation. You get 15 seconds to respond before Dana Bash shuts you down.

Q: Who would voluntarily participate in such a spectacle?

A: Only somebody literally crazed with ambition.

Q: Is this any way to choose what we once called (pre-Trump) “The Leader of the Free World”?

A: It’s sheer folly; also the only method we’ve got.

Many pundits, such as Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty, judged Sen. Elizabeth Warren the big winner, largely because of a “zinger” she got off at the expense of Rep. John Delaney, an obscure former Maryland congressman trailing my aforementioned orange tabby in the polls.

Delaney had compared Warren to Democratic losers Walter Mondale and George McGovern (who won two states and the District of Columbia between them). “Democrats win when we run on real solutions, not impossible promises,” Delaney said regarding Warren’s (and Bernie Sanders’) Medicare-for-All scheme.

“I don’t understand why anybody goes to all the trouble of running for president of the United States just to talk about what we really can’t do and shouldn’t fight for,” Warren responded. “I don’t get it.”

Cheers erupted in faculty lounges all over New England. A more perfect combination of feckless idealism and snide put-down is hard to imagine. I’ve seen it referenced like holy writ by passionate progressives.

Tumulty opined that “no one did a better job than the Massachusetts senator in laying out a purpose for seeking the presidency and offering a clear picture of what she will do with it if she wins.”

Yeah, she’ll spend four years scolding everybody for falling short of her lofty standards. A vast improvement over Trump no doubt. Nevertheless, to me, it was pure “Alice in Wonderland.”

I’d swear I went to high school with Elizabeth Warren. She told me I lacked school spirit. 

And I like Sen. Warren. Really, I do. She’s honest, hard-working and extremely smart. I even think she has a lovely smile. (Not as radiant as Joe Biden’s maybe, but he’s got a world-class politician’s mug.) During this election cycle, she’s doing Democrats a great service by shunting Shouting Bernie aside.

However, she’s also Michael Dukakis in a pantsuit. (Dukakis won 10 states, plus D.C.) You read it here first: No Ivy League professor of any gender will be elected president barring unforeseen cataclysmic events: an economic collapse, a mad war with Iran or both. Even then probably not.

Elizabeth Warren has a plan for everything. Except, that is, a plan for getting her brilliant schemes through any imaginable Congress and past the U.S. Supreme Court. Whether proposed by her, Bernie, Sen. Kamala Harris or Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Medicare-for-All is a dead-bang loser.

Polls show that even strong majorities of Democratic voters are resistant. Anybody who’s ever run afoul of the Social Security Administration or the V.A. understands why. People just don’t trust government to get it right – certainly not on the first try – and will need to be brought around by degrees.

Colorado put a Bernie-backed single-payer proposal on the ballot in 2016. It was rejected 80% to 20%.

After watching the first Democratic debate last week, Vox’s Ezra Klein expressed dismay on Twitter: “So far,” he wrote, “the big picture on the debate is the leading Democrats will criminalize private health insurance and decriminalize unauthorized border crossing. It’s a very different theory of the electorate than Democrats deployed in ‘08 or ‘12 or ‘18.”

Free college, student debt forgiveness and slavery reparations are similarly unpopular. Washington Monthly’s Martin Longman put it best: “(W)hat really makes no sense is to propose things that are incredibly unpopular with the key groups the Democrats need to win that have no prospect of being enacted ... I don’t expect the candidates to spend all their time talking about what cannot be done. But I wish they would please stop proposing things that people hate. It’s not smart politics.”

One thing I’ve learned from baseball? There’s no such thing as a six-run home run. The important thing is not to give away outs.

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyons at [email protected]

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